This one was an eye-opener.
Over the past few weeks, the Philadelphia Flyers have been able to motivate themselves with the dream that a playoff berth was still attainable, despite facing overwhelming odds and a pretty massive deficit in the standings. And it's not like you can fault the players - they obviously want to win, and the team certainly wasn't mathematically eliminated, especially after the Boston Bruins went into a February-long swoon.
The Flyers kept winning, despite often looking mediocre in the process, and the deficit kept shrinking. But after Tuesday's loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets and especially tonight's shootout fail against the pathetic Sabres, it's becoming very hard to ignore the inevitable.
In many ways, maybe this loss isn't a bad thing. The worst case scenario for the next two weeks would have been watching the Flyers storm back into contention, leading GM Ron Hextall to hold or even buy at the trade deadline, only for the team collapse down the stretch in March and April.
That doesn't seem likely now. Even with Boston still struggling (they lost in a shootout last night to the also-terrible Edmonton Oilers), the Flyers needed every point possible to even have a shot. And a home game against maybe the worst team of the millennium was a gimme two points.
Instead, the Flyers took only one, and now head into a weekend against the NHL-best Nashville Predators and Eastern Conference playoff lock Washington Capitals. If they lose these next two games, which at this point seems the most likely outcome, the truth will be impossible to deny. The playoffs just aren't happening this year, and it's time to look towards the future.
Eight more observations on this fun, fun game:
- In terms of overall play, the Flyers weren't god awful tonight - they won the 5v5 shot attempts battle 62-48 and were very dangerous with the man advantage. But against the Sabres, that level of domination isn't laudable, it's expected. At home in a must-win game against a terrible opponent, Philadelphia wanted to blow the doors off Buffalo, and it just didn't happen.
- Still, the Flyers likely exit this game with two points anyway if Ray Emery plays half-decent in the first period. He settled down eventually, but the first goal allowed was on a half-fanned Nicolas Deslauriers shot, and the second goal was a direct result of one of the worst rebounds you'll ever see as a hockey fan. He had some good games earlier this month, but now we're seeing what Emery really is at this stage of his career.
- Topping the list of "Cool Things That Happened at the Game", the Eric Desjardins Hall of Fame ceremony was certainly nice. Definitely more understated than the Lindros-LeClair festivities from earlier in the year, but that was befitting of Desjardins' calm and controlled playing style. Also, he looked like he's stayed in great shape (unlike other Flyers legends) and you couldn't help but wonder if he may still be a better defenseman than some of the ones who dressed tonight.
- The first line is back. Jakub Voracek was his old self in terms of puck possession, back to looking like Jaromir Jagr out there. Claude Giroux had his moments, though it appeared at times he let his frustration get the better of him, which remains one of his few flaws as a player. But Michael Raffl really does bring out the best in this line.
- Sean Couturier is really snakebit right now on breakaways and rush chances, and the fans are letting him have it, both at the rink and on social media. Couturier has never been the best in those situations, and at this point, it's fair to wonder if those skills are ever going to manifest in the NHL. But he's still creating those chances, which takes great instincts to do, while still providing strong two-way play. The Flyers have a lot of roster problems - a two-way 2C on track to score 50 points yearly really isn't one of them.
- I criticize Nicklas Grossmann more than most, but I have to admit that he had a fairly solid game tonight. He broke up a few zone entries, pushed his speed to the absolute limit on some backchecks, and even carried the puck into the offensive zone at speed once. Hopefully some of the scouts in the building tonight were here to keep an eye on Nick and came away impressed.
- Loved Wayne Simmonds' high effort play in the final ten minutes of the third period. One thing that has been clear in the locker room after home games this season is that Simmonds has stepped up to fill the void of the brutally honest leadership figure in the absence of Kimmo Timonen. A player is only able to pull that off if his teammates see him leaving it all out on the ice during games, and you certainly can't question the Wayne Train's effort when things get tight.
- Braydon Coburn added an assist on Ryan White's first goal as a Flyer. You almost wonder if it could be his last point with the team, considering the trade rumors and his infrequent scoring.